Network Your Power Outlet


Powerline networking with Linksys. (Photo: Linksys. Used with permission.)

P.C. Smith: One Byte at a Time

“Nearly every home in America Will have a computer within the next 20 years”. This was a quote that my professor made in the late 70’s. I woke up, yes I was in class, and thought, "Who is going to give up their living room to put one in!"

In those days the “Computer” was a Mainframe. It was something most people had only heard about, few had seen and a hallowed minority had even touched one.  

Well, professor, I’m glad words are easy to chew, because today I have to think hard to come up with someone I know who does not have a computer. That’s the issue. Today most people who have a computer actually own two or more, plus an internet connection.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the percentage of Americans with a home broadband connection stood at 42% in March 2006. Most residential internet connections were installed for one computer to connect to the internet. If you have more than one computer connected to your internet service, this is usually accomplished by using a router. The router controls your internet service and allows other computers to connect to it.

Most early routers were “wired” connections. You would physically connect a wire from your computer to the routers internal network switch. This way you could connect two or more computers to your Internet Service Provider, ISP.  Wiring could become cumbersome if both of the computers were not close to the router. ("Hey what’s this wire placed on the floor for?") Today many routers have a “Wireless Access Point” (WAP) built in. This is great. You can sit in the kitchen with your notebook, with a wireless network card, and surf the web while the desktop and router are in the den or other room.

Sometimes even the best WAP will give some dead spots where you cannot get good signal. Wireless signals can also be spotty, affected by the immediate environment.  Microwave ovens, even the weather, can impact your wireless connection. 

Power Networking 

One form of extending your network is using the electrical wires in your home! Enter Powerline Networking. The theory behind this is there are electrical wires running all over your house. You plug your lights, TV and your computer into this wiring. Powerline Networking uses these wires to send an Ethernet signal thru these wires! Any place you have a computer, and usually you have electricity for that computer, you can have network/internet connection. Even in the basement where your wireless signal could be weak or non-existent.  

We took a look at the Linksys/Cisco powerline adapters to see how they worked. To accomplish this you need at least two (2) adapters. Linksys has a kit with two adapters, cables and software to get the job done. We connected one adapter to the wall outlet and one to a computer then ran the setup program.

After running the easy setup software we went upstairs, plugged the other adapter in the wall, and then connected the network cable from the adapter to the router. Done! When we went back into the basement our computer was running as fast as if it were connected right to the router.  There was no lag, and this is a steady and secure way to connect your network, no worry of somebody pulling up in front of your house stealing your wireless.

There are security and encryption options you can turn on, but most home users will find that it works fine right out of the box. The adapters are portable once setup. You can take them anywhere in your house then plug into any outlet and have network/internet access. You can add extra adapters at anytime and extend your network connecting digital TV tuners, game consoles, and Internet phones.

There is a disadvantage: price. With each adapter costing from $70.00 to $99.00 each, if you needed four or more you could easily get a professional electrician to come and hard wire your home for that kind of money.  The nice advantage still is the portability of having a connection any place in your house you can plug into the wall. There are several vendors who have Powerline solutions. Check compatibility and standards. Your home wiring should also be in good order before buying Powerline adapters. 

Anyway have the neighbors bring over their laptops, order pizza, hook up an 8 port switch to a Powerline and … “WAR GAMES IN THE BASEMENT TONIGHT”